Monday, 25 November 2019

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Kahn

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star is the third book by Vaseem Kahn in his Baby Ganesh Detective series – and possibly the most engaging yet.

Chopra’s beloved wife Poppy is delighted when he manages to get tickets to attend an extravaganza starring Bollywood’s latest hot property, Vicky Verma. But when Verma vanishes from the stage at the end of the show, apparently kidnapped, Chopra is called in to investigate. Before the end, you can be sure that Chopra will have given the long suffering Poppy more than a little cause for anxiety, but that she, their adopted street urchin Irfan and the elephant Baby Ganesh will have combined to come to the rescue.

The sub-plot of the story is even more fascinating, as Chopra’s new assistant, Rangwalla, is forced to go undercover with Mumbai’s eunuchs – the city’s ancient and despised transgender community – and learns to see them in a whole new light.

This all takes place in the build up to the Festival of Holi – the Indian festival that, as Chopra reflects, ‘transcended the barriers that so often kept people apart’, a colourful explosion of madness that Poppy, Ganesh and Irfan all adore - and the ever-digified Chopra merely tolerates.

As always, Kahn’s gentle humour allows him to poke fun some of the absurdities of Mumbai society, while at the same time turning over a few stones and exposing some of the city’s darker elements.

I suspect that if you are familiar with Bollywood films, you might spot references to familiar tropes and plot lines that passed me by. I did enjoy what I’m guessing was a nod to the famous long-running court case at the heart of Dickens Bleak House, as Inspector Chopra takes a similar pot-shot at the slow-moving Indian legal system.

This is the sort of book you curl up with in the expectation of being charmed, entertained, comforted and – just on the sly while you’re not really looking – taught something new. Kahn is a prolific writer, and I am by now well behind with this series. Two more - Murder at the Grand Raj Hotel and Bad Day at the Vulture Club - have already been published.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Honey Trap by JJ Marsh; The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson; anything else in the Baby Ganesh series by Vaseem Khan

Avoid If You Dislike: Warm and cosy Crime Fiction with a soupçon of peril and a flavour of India

Perfect Accompaniment: Chana Masala and saffron rice

Genre: Crime Fiction

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